Gender diversity in the packaging industry, and empowerment within that arena, led yesterday’s discussion at the 2021 Women in Packaging forum.

“What can I ask?”, “What can I do?”, “What can I change?”, were three questions put to participants by keynote speaker Louise Weine at the fourth Women in Packaging event.

Presented by PKN Packaging News and Food & Drink Business, hosted in partnership with the Australian Institute of Packaging as part of the 2020 AIP Australasian Packaging Conference, Women in Packaging drew its national audience into a virtual event for the second year running. 

Influential proponent of diversity and its value in the workplace: Keynote speaker at Women in Packaging 2021, Louise Weine
Influential proponent of diversity and its value in the workplace: Keynote speaker at Women in Packaging 2021, Louise Weine

Weine, CEO of the National Association of Women in Operations, inspired participants to ask those three questions with the knowledge that greater gender diversity in the workplace is proven to improve businesses performance.

Engagement was high as, prompted by Weine, people shared in the chat forum what they thought were the skillsets needed to do their jobs well, and more specifically, what skills were needed to be successful in packaging.

“Women make the most purchasing decisions in households, but we are also not a homogenous group. To access insights into your consumers, you have to leverage the diversity of the market in your business. Then you can harness its potential and power.

“Research has revealed that companies with higher diversity in management gained 38 per cent more of their revenue from innovative products and services than those companies with lower diversity,” Weine said.

“Diversity is a key ingredient for better decision-making,” she said. “Diverse teams can leverage a greater variety of perspectives and are likely to consider information more thoroughly and accurately.

“And mixed gender teams can better manage group conflict compared to homogenous teams, and better maximise creativity amongst those team members,” she said, adding that company profit and shared performance is almost 50 per cent higher when women are well represented in senior positions.

Weine cited data to indicate Australian businesses are not leveraging this opportunity and went on to challenge leaders with a call to action, asking them to consider how gender balanced we, as an industry, are overall.

WGEA data shows female representation in Australian businesses is sitting at 51 per cent, and 33 per cent of key management positions are held by women, but there is still a total remuneration pay gap of 20 per cent across the board in Australia.

Weine delved into how the manufacturing sector is performing in terms of gender diversity and extrapolated relevant indicators to the packaging industry. She strongly advised immediate and positive action to speed up change.

In manufacturing:
• There is a 12% pay gap;
• There has only been a 1% increase in the number of women in the industry in six years to 27 per cent;
• 52.4 % of business in all industries provide paid caring support (such as parental leave) to their staff. In manufacturing this sits at 37.1 per cent;
• 32% of incoming employees are female and 30.3% of those going out the door are female;
• Only 5.2 % of positions are offered part time; and
• Part time positions make up only 5.3 % of promotions.

“Over this period, we have seen a 7.2 per cent increase and 23 per cent in key management positions in manufacturing, so there is some good work going on,” said Weine, “But, you know, there's a lot more to be done here, for this pipeline to be much stronger.

“It's a complex problem and I often describe it as an onion where you just keep unravelling all the layers and then find another thing to resolve.

“That doesn't mean it’s out of our control to solve it, it just means that we have to work across multiple levels and layers in order to get things to change,” she said.

Weine went on to discuss outdated terms such as ‘maternity’ or ‘paternity’ leave and pointed out the need to change antiquated legalities on employment contracts, succession planning and retirement that no longer serve.

Exclusion in workplaces was also a hot topic, and Weine sent out a challenge to break from being attractive to ‘sameness’ and becoming ‘comfortably uncomfortable.’

“Step into the discomfort, ask yourself if you are looking for cultural fit rather than cultural add. There are tough conversations that need unwavering leadership and commitment to change,” she said.

Admitting that we have a long way to go, she nevertheless encouraged people to move from accepting complacency and to say “that’s just not good enough.”

Weine then discussed the nine levers for gender balance, divided into a three-layer strategy, which she said, helps NAWO members to understand the multiple touch points that need to be activated.

NAWO's nine levers for gender balance
NAWO's nine levers for gender balance

In closing, Weine challenged listeners to begin their own circle of influence and control by examining what they can do, ask, and ultimately, change.

About Louise Weine
Louise Weine is a leader, change maker and facilitator with more than 25 years’ management and leadership experience in large global organisations, her own consulting practice and most recently, the not-for-profit, NAWO, where she is national director and CEO.

Women in Packaging 2021 was sponsored by tna Solutions.

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